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Book looks at The Dead End Kids, East Side Kids, and Bowery Boys

Leo Gorcey, Gabe Dell, Bobby Jordan, Bernard Punsly, Billy Halop, Huntz Hall
Leo Gorcey, Gabe Dell, Bobby Jordan, Bernard Punsly, Billy Halop, Huntz Hall
Richard Roat/BearManor

A book written by a long time fan and archivist


Six young actors -- Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Billy Halop, Gabe Dell, Bernard Punsly, and Bobby Jordan -- appeared as street urchins in Sidney Kingsley's Broadway play "Dead End." When they were cast in Samuel Goldwyn's 1937 film version featuring Humphrey Bogart, they became such a sensation they were thereafter billed as The Dead End Kids. Under contract at Warner Brothers, they continued to appear with the likes of Bogart, James Cagney, even a couple movies with Ronald Reagan.

The group splintered toward the end of the 1930s with Halop and Punsly going over to Universal to appear in films with another group of kids known as The Little Tough Guys, while Gorcey went to Monogram to appear with yet another group as The East Side Kids. Jordan, Hall and Dell appeared in films with both groups. Comedy started to be a stronger ingredient in each series, culminating in 1946 when Monogram revamped the structure as The Bowery Boys for 48 successful features that continued to emphasize more and more comedy. By this time, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall were clearly the stars, with Jordan only appearing in the first few films and Dell leaving after a few years. Gorcey himself left the act when his father Bernard (a series regular) died after an auto crash in 1956. Hall was the only original Dead End Kid left when the series finally concluded in 1958. Meanwhile, Halop had gone on to do character roles as a solo actor (with limited success, although his recurring role as cabbie Bert Munson on TV's "All in the Family" has lived on), and Punsly left acting all together to become a doctor.

Author Richard Roat was more than just a fan of these series. He studied the different films, made contact with the actors, and collected photos and other materials for decades. He finally put it all together for the book "Hollywood's Made-To-Order Punks" from BearManor Media.

There have actually been a couple of pretty thorough books on these series, which would indicate there is very little to say. Roat's book is different for a few reasons. He actually sought out and made friends with a lot of the actors who appeared in the series (and their families, for those actors who died young), so his bios on each and every individual to appear in any of the series are quite interesting in the details they offer. So we not only get bios on the aforementioned original Dead End Kids but also other members of the Little Tough Guys, East Side Kids, and Bowery Boys including Gorcey's younger brother David, Billy Benedict, Stanley Clements, Eugene Francis, Bennie Barlett, etc.

The filmography of all the movies from the various series makes no attempt to assess each film. That has been done before in more than one previous book on the group. Roat instead offers interesting background trivia, much of it not found elsewhere, and period reviews from Variety, The New York Times, and other publications, offering a fascinating historical glimpse at how the various films were received by the critics. The book also offers Forewords by Leo Gorcey's daughter Brandy, and actor Mende Koenig, one of the last living members of The East Side Kids.

The book is also filled with photo illustrations, but not as many as the author would like to have included. He collected so many stills and posters over the past 50 years that he has compiled another book containing many of these images.

For fans of these series, "Hollywood's Made-To-Order" punks is a welcome addition to the other studies on the films. It is most highly recommended for the unusual and fascinating information it provides.